Career Success Roadblocks: Three Behaviors Women Should Avoid

Career Success for Women
By Erin Ryan and Megan Thomas


Could a self-limiting behavior be preventing you from realizing career success by going for a new job or promotion, asking for a well-deserved raise or making personal progress in life? 

According to How Women Rise, co-authored by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith, your response may depend on your gender. While women and men share some common professional challenges, basic gender distinctions and proven cultural realities come into play

Thoughts and behaviors that commonly hold women back in their careers are distinct from those that block the progress of male co-workers. Women often define career success differently than men, which in turn creates habits that women internalize, inhibiting one from reaching her fullest potential. It is only when a woman can redirect her thinking and frame of mind that she will break these habits and soar to new heights. This article outlines three self-limiting behaviors that women struggle with often. 


Falling Victim to Loyalty

We’ve always been told that loyalty is a virtue. It’s what makes us a trusted friend, a desirable partner and a valued employee. But what if loyalty has a dark side? Helgesen and Goldsmith talk about how women oftentimes focus only on doing our work rather than talking about our work. As a result, our work may go unrewarded or even unnoticed. Being able to articulate your successes is not showboating or self-promotion – it is a necessity for career growth. 

Furthermore, women may feel so loyal to an individual (e.g. boss or colleague) that they stay in a job too long. “Women who use their jobs as a way to avoid thinking about their long-term aspirations and careers often have a problem admitting to ambition,” the authors write. 

Not surprisingly, women also become deeply loyal to their teams. Many women are wired to be nurturers, and a team setting provides an intrinsically rewarding framework to exercise that natural quality. However, the How Women Rise authors warn that such inward-facing loyalty may be at the expense of cultivating relationships with external and senior stakeholders who can help women rise in their careers. Don’t let the dark side of being too humble and focused on your daily duties prevent you from sharing your successes and goals.


Living in Your Rearview Mirror

Imagine what would happen if you tried to drive to work only by looking in your rearview mirror. Your sense of direction would be compromised. You may be forced to turn around and drive backward. Your destination could be right in front of you, but you wouldn’t know it. 

This is the equivalent of a dangerous roadblock: rumination. Reflecting, revisiting and reliving our weaknesses and failures can eventually deplete our self-worth and give way to anxiety, ultimately weakening our ability to make courageous decisions. Women tend to internalize and overthink what they said, did, or how they acted and dissect their own mistakes due to the high value they place on relationships. If you find yourself ruminating, take solitude in the fact that most people, especially men, move on to the next thought and action quickly!


The Disease to Please

For the chronic pleasers and women who are always striving to create consensus and harmony among all, this behavior is not sustainable or good for your well-being. The disease to please is rooted in cultural expectations for young women and is magnified by the increasing expectations being placed on our gender by suggesting that we should be able to do everything and have it all. It is important to deliberately think about your personal priorities and what is most important to you, and to stop focusing on what will please others (such as not saying yes to every project so your personal life is not in shambles). It is okay to say no and set boundaries!

To help overcome these self-limiting behaviors, enlist help and avoid the temptation to judge yourself. Inviting a co-worker into a “peer coaching” relationship can benefit growth on an employee and personal level. We are all works-in-progress and success takes time. Your hard work and real strengths have helped you to succeed thus far, so now it’s time to fine-tune the way you view your habits to help increase your career success. 


Erin Ryan is the Senior Business Development Manager at McGuireWoods LLP. She is passionate about strengthening organizations from the inside-out, helping her team, colleagues and clients achieve their potential. For the past 14 years, she’s provided exceptional business development and marketing services to several AmLaw 100 firms. Erin says when her children ask her why she goes to work, she is proud to tell them, “Because it makes Mommy happy.”


Megan Thomas is he Director of Client Services for Benesch where she is responsible for the overall client service experience with the firm. Within this capacity, Megan manages and directs all client entertainment activities across all offices to include suite management, special events and client appreciation programs. Additionally, Megan manages the firm wide CRM system and works strategically with firm management and practice group chairs to direct and manage all client-focused educational events and seminars as well as all firm-focused events, retreats and outings from conception to follow up optimizing business opportunities for current clients and prospective clients. Outside of the event space, Megan assists with business development efforts along with initiatives associated with the firm’s overall strategy.

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